2013 Florida Atlantic Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Florida Atlantic Owl Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: There were growing pains on defense in 2012 for the personnel and the coaching staff at Florida Atlantic. Year 2 will be all about building on last season's lessons. Coordinator Pete Rekstis has no shortage of priorities, but generating more money plays has to be at the top of his list. The Owls are far too athletic to repeat last year's feeble numbers, ranking 99th nationally in takeaways and 118th in sacks. Rekstis and his staff are pleased to be bringing back many of last season's starters, the foundation on which the program hopes to build. Linebackers Andrae Kirk, Adarius Glanton and Randell Johnson could form one of the top units in Conference USA. And seven players with starting experience return to the secondary. But Florida Atlantic will only make strides if the line doesn't get manhandled the way it did last fall. The onus is particularly on senior ends Cory Henry and Martin Wright to get upfield and to disrupt the flow of plays at the line of scrimmage.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Andrae Kirk
Tackles: Adarius Glanton, 75
Sacks: Randell Johnson, Cory Henry, 2
Interceptions: Keith Reaser, Adarius Glanton, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star:Senior DE Cory Henry
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NB Cre'von LeBlanc
Best pro prospect: Kirk
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kirk, 2) Senior LB Adarius Glanton, 3) Senior CB Keith Reaser
Strength of the defense: Team speed, linebacker, secondary depth
Weakness of the defense: The pass rush, consistency in pass defense, takeaways, run defense
If Florida Atlantic has any hope of making strides on defense, it must begin up front, where the program rarely made a peep in 2012. The Owls will be led on the outside by a couple of veterans looking to finish their careers on a high note. Senior Cory Henry is moving back to the D-line after spending a season starting six games at linebacker, and making 24 tackles and two sacks. The 6-3, 238-pounder is a fine all-around athlete, with the quick first step to be a nuisance in the backfield.
Providing a little more size and run support from the opposite end position will be 6-4, 250-pound senior Martin Wright. The rangy veteran has played 33 games during his career, starting six in 2012. While he led the Owls with five quarterback hurries, he has to start turning more pressures into sacks. A year ago, he had 28 tackles, yet only four stops for loss and 1.5 sacks.
The busiest of the backup ends figures to be 6-5, 260-pound senior Andrew Stryffeler. He's been held back by injuries at times during his career, and has been in on just 16 tackles over the past three seasons.
On the inside, the program is excited by the future of sophomore Trevon Coley, a starter in each game of his true freshman year. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, he's dramatically undersized for the assignment, but he's plenty quick, and will continue to add weight. In a table-setting debut, Coley logged 39 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks, while also serving as an extra blocker in certain short-yardage situations.
Next to Coley at tackle will be 6-2, 260-pound sophomore Brandin Bryant, a second-year transfer from Fort Scott (Kans.) Community College. He showed flashes of being a playmaker as a nine-game starter in his Owls debut, making 31 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack.
The veteran among the Florida Atlantic tackles is Coley's backup, 6-3, 279-pound Kayvon Sherrill. The senior—and second-year import from Hutchinson Community (Kans.) College—started a pair of games last year and made nine stops.
Watch Out For .... sophomore Derek Butcher to quickly work his way into the rotation at one of the tackle slots. He's a 6-4, 295-pound transfer from North Dakota State College of Science who plays with the motor and tenacity that Florida Atlantic is missing in the trenches.
Strength: Experience on the outside. In Henry and Wright, the line boasts a pair of veteran leaders, both of whom are determined to deliver their best seasons in Boca Raton. The two are quick off the snap, and have the potential to be more disruptive in 2013 than they were at any point in their careers.
Weakness: Stuffing the run. After ranking last in the Sun Belt in run defense, while yielding 4.8 yards per carry, Florida Atlantic won't have the size to reverse the trend. The starting quartet averages slightly more than 240 pounds, which just won't cut it against opposing lines that'll often be 40 or 50 pounds heavier.
Outlook: The Owls just don't have the horses to contend with opponents from Conference USA, or really any FBS league for that matter. They're extremely light, especially on the inside, and ineffective at moving the line of scrimmage. It's going to be another very long season for a Florida Atlantic D-line unable to anchor or leave its mark in the trenches.
The Owls are going to look to junior Andrae Kirk for more leadership this season, both the physical and the emotional kind. He's been an impact player from the moment he stepped foot on campus as a rookie in 2011. And despite only starting in half of last year's games, he still managed to finish fourth on the squad with 70 tackles, four stops for loss and three pass breakups. At 6-2 and 235 pounds, the budding star now has the right build to man the middle, and possesses the best blend of size and speed among the team's linebackers.
Florida Atlantic is also fortunate to have back senior Adarius Glanton, lending a glimmer of hope that the D will be a little tougher to navigate on the ground. The Eastern Arizona Community College transfer began the year on the bench, but wound up winning the starting job for the final seven games. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, Glanton looks like a strong safety, yet plays with the pop of a weakside linebacker. Showing versatility and range as the learning curve gradually flattened, he ranked third on the team with 75 stops, adding 5.5 stops for loss and a pair of picks.
The third member of a solid corps of linebackers is senior Randell Johnson. Hampered by injuries throughout last season, the speedy 6-4, 230-pounder was never able to build off of a breakout sophomore year. After finishing second on the squad with 92 tackles, including 14.5 for loss, four sacks and four forced fumbles, Johnson's production plummeted to just 21 stops a year ago. He's at his best as a standup outside linebacker, coming hard off the edge like a defensive end.
The future looks bright for 6-2, 200-pound sophomore Freedom Whitfield, the likely heir apparent to Glanton in 2014. Whitfield lettered as a rookie, and made 12 tackles, even getting some first-team reps toward the end of the year. Whitfield needs to bulk up, but his range and versatility will allow him to be used a number of different ways by the coaches. Backing up Kirk will be Josh Ballesteros, an athletic 6-2, 210-pound sophomore looking for his first opportunity to get snaps.
Watch Out For .... Johnson to show more flashes of his sophomore self. On many levels, he just wasn't right a year ago. But he has far too much raw ability, particularly as an edge rusher, to have another quiet year. The staff will find ways to maximize the skills and talents of a defender eager to capture the attention of pro scouts.
Strength: Speed and range. Above all else, the Florida Atlantic linebackers are outstanding all-around athletes, able to cover ground quickly as pass rushers and pass defenders. They move with all of the suddenness and fluidity of safeties, yet are big and thick enough to lower the boom like linebackers.
Weakness: Discipline and consistency. The Owls linebackers are aggressive, which is great, but sometimes they can be a little too aggressive by being out of position and over pursuing the play. Johnson was a microcosm of the inconsistency of this unit, a borderline all-star in 2011 and a backup in 2012.
Outlook: Florida Atlantic is very excited about this season's collection of linebackers, and for good reason. They're big, fast and experienced enough to leave their imprint on every game of 2013. Kirk and Glanton are peaking as defenders, but Johnson is one to watch very closely. If he can play even close to the way he did two years ago, the Owls will boast one of Conference USA's premier units from the second level.
With a slew of returning starters back from a secondary that led the Sun Belt in pass defense, Florida Atlantic is confident it can make a smooth transition to the pass-happy Conference USA. Senior CB Keith Reaser brings 27 career starts into his final season as an amateur. At 6-0 and 190 pounds, he has the size needed to match up with some of the bigger receivers on the schedule. He begins 2013 with five career picks, including two last season to go along with 45 tackles.
Manning the other corner spot will be 5-11, 175-pound junior D'Joun Smith, a nine-game starter last season. He's gained plenty of experience over the last two years, methodically honing his coverage skills. A little undersized to be a consistent factor against the run, he had 25 tackles, but did pick off a pass and lead the Owls with eight passes defended.
The Owls are eager to see what 5-10, 180-pound senior FS Jeremy McKnight can do with a full season of action. In his debut out of Navarro (Tex.) Junior College, he started five games, missed a lot of time due to injury. When McKnight was on the field, he was very feisty and sure-tackling in run defense, finishing fifth on the team with 50 tackles.
Strong safety is home to a couple of veterans, neither of whom is a stranger to the lineup. Frontrunner Winfred Strickland started four games in 2012, chipping in 24 tackles and a pick. The 6-0, 185-pound senior will be looking to build on his best year in Boca Raton. Behind Strickland is 6-2, 195-pound junior Damian Parms, who started three games and had 20 tackles a season ago.
Florida Atlantic has options at nickel as well. Sophomore Cre'von LeBlanc impressed as a rookie, starting nine straight after missing the first two games with academic issues. More physical than his 5-11, 175-pound frame might indicate, he had 42 tackles and four pass breakups, and can be used near the line to press the run. LeBlanc's backup will be 5-10, 170-pound senior Christian Milstead, a former Navy transfer who started five games and made 24 stops in 2012.
Watch Out For .... McKnight to catch a lot of teams by surprise. He's obviously talented enough to excel at this level, especially now that he's back to 100%. This is a safety who had 20 combined tackles in games with Georgia and Alabama. If he puts it all together, leading the Owls in stops can't be ruled out.
Strength: Depth and experience. The defensive backfield is flush with returning players, which will mean more competition and fewer injury concerns as the season unfolds. Plus, three seniors are expected to start, so a lack of veteran leadership will not be a worry in the fall.
Weakness: Coverage consistency. Sure, the Owls led the Sun Belt in pass defense in 2012, but they were also thrown on infrequently. Florida Atlantic picked off just eight balls, second fewest in the league, and tied for last in percentage of touchdown passes yielded.
Outlook: They're older; now they just have to get better. The coaching staff rightfully expects more game-changing plays from a veteran unit that's played a lot of football together over the past few seasons. The Owls are hoping for career years from a few players, particularly Reaser and McKnight. If the seniors deliver, the pass defense could be a pleasant surprise in 2013.
Both of last year's kicking specialists return, but that will hardly bring a sense of calm to the coaching staff. The Owls had all kinds of issues on special teams in 2012. Senior PK Mitch Anderson, took over the job in his first year out of Austin (Tex.), but hit just 7-of-14 field goals, with four blocks.
Sophomore P Sean Kelly averaged just a shade under 40 yards an attempt in his debut. While the former walk-on needs to work on his distance and hang time, he did earn a scholarship at the end of the 2012 season.
Florida Atlantic's busiest return man last year was senior Travis Jones, who handled both punts and kickoffs. A more dangerous punt returner, he averaged 8.5 yards to rank third in the Sun Belt Conference.
Watch Out For… the staff to go to great lengths to find some competition for Anderson. No, a kicker wasn't inked on Signing Day, but the Owls won't be against bringing aboard walk-ons to push the incumbent.
Strength: Punter. It's all relative to the rest of the unit, but Florida Atlantic is in better shape at the position than it was at this time last year. Kelly is more experienced and a lot more confident now that the staff has awarded him with a free ride.
Weakness: Placekicker. The Owls offense isn't so prolific that it can withstand stalled drives that end in no points. As a team, they converted just 8-of-17 field goal tries, a deflating result that negatively impacts each unit of the program.
Outlook: Sometimes, the special teamers can provide a boost to the offense and the defense. That's not likely to be the case in Boca Raton this season. Florida Atlantic is shaky in just about every phase of the unit, creating a very challenging offseason for assistant Matt Edwards.
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Florida Atlantic Offense
2013 Florida Atlantic Defense |
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